Category Archives: News

Appeal to 90 crore: “Elect candidates of religious equanimity”

Spiritual and religious scholars have appealed to 90 crore voters that they elect to Lok Sabha candidates who possess religious equanimity, good human values, believe in compassion and well-fare of all that will save society from the ills of this era of materialism.

It is worth reminding that evidence is available that India’s democratic traditions go back 6000 years. Ancient Indian texts, Sanhita and Smritis and Vedic texts have detailed descriptions of the qualities of leadership. The central message of all religions—Sanatan Bhagwat, Buddhism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Jewish, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism etc—relates to emancipation and public welfare. To be religious the focus should be on renunciation, ahimsa, courage, forgiveness, inner and outer cleanliness, self-control, knowledge, education, truth, and control of anger etc. Therefore, the 90 crore voters in the country should choose their candidates belonging to different political parties and ideologies by judging them with the yardstick of good human qualities. The common citizen follows the example set by the leader.

It is unfortunate that the storm of materialism and consumerism is destroying the good human values. The distorted mindset is being used to promote violence, fear, and crime instead of Dharma Adhyatam for the good of society. This has no relation with Dharma Adhyatam.

Ancient Indian texts say that when the material razzle-dazzle leads mankind astray then enlightened minds should start a struggle to bring them back on track. In the prevailing democratic system, the voter occupies a lofty place. The general election is a five-yearly Mahakumbh dedicated to the people. It is a special occasion for the society and the responsibility of the 90 crore voters is above everything else. It is the Dharma of the voter to elect candidates of virtues so that the country has a maximum representation of people dedicated to serving the people.

All political parties have been requested that they should select candidates who believe in religious coexistence, tolerance, human values, social equality etc. They should not nominate candidates who are corrupt or involved in crime or face prosecution on criminal charges. The political parties should declare in their manifestoes that they believe in religious tolerance and religious coexistence. They should not milk the religious sentiments of the people. That is Adharma. Appeals have also been made to the Dharmacharyas of all religions that they should be neutral observers in this Mahakumbh of elections because for them all are equal.

Media–newspapers, TV channels etc—have been requested not to print news and photographs or use visuals of leaders of political parties and candidates in the poll praying or visiting temples, Dargahs, Gurdwaras, Churches, Mutts etc. It is a private matter of people who worship and visit religious places. Religious books and scholars of different religions do not permit the use of religious places for publicity and exhibitionism. It is immoral to convert religious places into a tool of the election campaign. It was observed during the last elections that the media presented the participation of political leaders in religious ceremonies in a sensational, dramatic manner. It is improper to play narrow party politics in the name of religion because it has an adverse impact on the people.

Candidates of various political parties have been requested not to be provocative in their speeches and campaigns which can have both short and long term adverse impact. All social organizations have been cautioned that they should play a constructive role in raising awakening among people and as messengers of social welfare. They should not become puppets in the hands of political parties.

An appeal is being made to the 60 crore young voters in the 18-40 year age group to exercise their franchise with maturity and after careful thought in favour of candidates who can help bring a social revolution and support human values.

Balakot Becoming Modi’s Winning Card?

By Allabaksh

Narendra Modi rode to power in 2014 on the back of diatribes against the chosen bête-noire in the Opposition mixing it judiciously with ‘Jumla’-laden talk of ‘Vikas’ (development). Mid-way through his five-year term as prime minister, this winning formula appeared to fail him. Now with the next round of polls approaching fast, he has discovered a new trump card.

The Pulwama attack by a suicide bomber of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed in Kashmir on February 14 had sent the nation into grief and shock. The Indian response on February 26 at Balakot in Pakistan’s KP province has rekindled hopes of Modi being able to fulfill his desire for another term in office.

The prime minister is for sure an indefatigable election campaigner. He was in no mood to interrupt his schedule when 40 CRPF jawans were killed at Pulwama. But he did not waste much time in cashing in on the ‘success of the IAF strike at Balakot. In his non-stop election speeches since then he made it a point to denounce the skeptical Opposition for lacking in patriotism.

Tennyson’s ‘ours is not to question why’ is an immortal line in his Charge of the Light Brigade which is about soldiers’ bravery. In the world of Modi ‘ours is not to question why’ applies to his and his government’s acts of omission and commission—ask no questions to express doubt about what Modi and men have said.

You risked being branded ‘anti-national’ if you asked questions about the failed ‘Modinomics’ that has affected millions of youth and farmers or expressed abhorrence about vigilantes fervour for the blood of the ‘other’. Now, betraying even the slightest doubt about the credibility of the claims of ‘success’ in ‘teaching a lesson’ to Pakistan is to incur the wrath of the government’s might.

A BJP luminary is reportedly of the view that those who fail to attend rallies addressed by Modi should be deemed ‘Pakistani’. This is one of the new ways of defining the patriotism of Indians.

Asking about the impact of action against terrorists is supposed to ‘weaken’ the nation. The lay man can scratch his head, wondering how come a strike on a camp that reportedly killed 350 (or more) terrorists at Balakot did not see any signs of a mass burial and a public outcry that was bound to follow after such a heavy casualty?

The former Karnataka chief minister, the top BJP leader in the south, Y.S. Yeddyurappa, who has led several failed sorties on the Congress-JD (S) camp in the state to wrest power, had no hesitation in declaring that after the Balakot strike the BJP is assured of at least 22 of the 28 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Another BJP leader in Jharkhand is equally certain of a quantum uptick in his party’s fortune after Balakot. The two BJP leaders may say that they were quoted ‘out of context’ the fact is that they are only saying what is in the minds of all their party leaders who have been euphoric after the Balakot strike.

Post -Balakot, statements by world leaders and international media seem to have taken a positive note of efforts made by the Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, in de-escalating the tense Indo-Pak situation, particularly by returning Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman. Pakistan may have released the IAF officer due to international ‘pressure’. But those familiar with the ways of Pakistan would know that Pakistan is a country that does not hesitate to cut off its nose to spite its face. It is reasonable to believe that Abhinandan was returned—and quickly—to garner favourable comments and gain a high moral ground.

Modi is known to be coining acronyms to denigrate his adversaries. But he and his party have also altered the conventional meaning of certain words in the lexicon. For instance, ‘politicisation’ is used to prohibit criticism of the government. ‘National interest’ is invoked to slam the door on uncomfortable queries.

Whether it is about corruption charges involving top BJP leaders, serious riots or death due to official negligence and apathy, to question the government is to indulge in ‘politicisation’, an unethical and immoral act. ‘Corruption’ is said to have disappeared overnight the moment Modi came to power. The Balakot strike has ‘proved’ that only Modi can assure full safety and security to the nation.

‘Paradigm shift’ is a phrase being heard lately with increasing frequency. One of these ‘paradigm’ changes is that it is kosher for the ruling party members to flaunt sacrifices made by the jawans for attracting votes. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, a word has gone round that the ‘successful’ Balakot strike would not have been possible but for the stewardship of Narendra Modi. ‘Patriotic’ Indians are not supposed to ask a simple question: Has the Balakot strike or the ‘surgical strikes’ of 2016 brought down, much less eliminated, the terror infrastructure inside Pakistan? Attacks by terrorists have continued unabated. Many experts have warned of an escalation in Pakistan-sponsored terror.


By Malladi Rama Rao
(The author is an old Northeast hand who covered Assam agitation and insurgency in Mizoram and Manipur)

Technically, Modi’s efforts to legalise infiltration of the favoured few without loudly harping on Hindutva were checkmated on Wednesday, Feb 13, 2019 as the Rajya Sabha could not even take up the Citizenship Amendment Bill before curtains came down on the 16th Lok Sabha, and the country formally slipped into election mode. Along with this law, the much hyped anti-triple talaq legislation – The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2018, as it is known, also lapsed.

“End to triple talaq” is one of the key talking points of the BJP, and so the Saffron Party will not like the Congress –led parliamentary logjam to stand in its way of garnering Muslim women votes. The government may therefore turn to the ordinance route to bring back the ‘talaq law’ on the statute book as it did once in the past year. So, will the Citizenship Amendment Law also have a re-birth? It may since the Modi government has set its eyes on the Mamata turf and is determined to walk the extra mile to neutralise her politics of minority appeasement, and garner the Hindu vote. This is the reason why the new law seeks to treat a Hindu fleeing persecution and certain death in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan on par with a Muslim infiltrating into India in search of livelihood. Besides Hindus, immigrants Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians are welcome, the Modi law says.

Muslim infiltration is a big political issue in the North-east, particularly Assam. The region is also opposed to accept Hindus, and Chakma Buddhists. Arunachal Pradesh has not accepted with open arms the pre-1971 Chakmas, despite the best efforts of Indira Gandhi regime and its successors.

Mizoram has a sizable (one lakh) Chakma population of its own along the border with Bangladesh. The Mizo society has never taken to them kindly, asserting that there is no end to Chakma infiltration from across the border. Well, Barak Valley of Assam, which is home to the Bengalis, is not opposed to Modi’s law. BJP ruled Tripura should have no problem with the new citizenship law but is facing heat from the indigenous tribals, who fear becoming marginalised completely. Manipur, Nagaland, and Meghalaya are not happy either with the fear of being swamped by Hindu outsiders. North Eastern Students Organisation (NESO) sees the bill as a ” blatant attempt to Hindu-ise north-east India”, and adds: “We have a different identity. Our identity will be finished”.

No surprise, therefore, the entire North-East has been roiled by protests; people showed black flags to Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he visited the region in the first week of February to personally assure them that under his care their interests would always be protected. The Centre has since set up a high powered committee to implement Clause 6 of the Assam Accord. This Clause is the soul of Assam Accord signed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1985 but it has remained unimplemented for the last 30 years. It reads: “Constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, as may be appropriate shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the culture, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people”. The committee will examine the effectiveness of actions taken since 1985 and look into awarding “reservations in employment under the government of Assam for the Assamese people”. This move should have bought some peace but it did not.

What prompted Modi and his advisors to come up with a bill which, according to its critics, “when clinically analysed, proves to be mediocre, logically untenable, historically challenged and morally suspect”. It is difficult to subscribe to the theory that Delhi and Nagpur were unaware of the groundswell of opposition in the North-east to infiltrators of any hues. RSS pracharaks have been working in Assam particularly Upper and Central Assam, which have been facing the brunt of infiltration since Independence. After the Chinese aggression in 1962, Assam became a sort of training ground for young RSS workers from various states, particularly Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.

BJP leadership cannot deny that they have had no warning signals. Ally, Asom Gana Parishad, (AGP) upped the ante long before the Lok Sabha passed the Citizenship Amendment Bill on January 8; when the Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, the official pointsman for the region, rejected their demand for a roll back, the party walked out of the Sonowal ministry. Partner from the cow belt, Janta Dal (United) led by potential prime minister Nitish Kumar, sent a delegation to Assam on the eve of the Budget session, read the local pulse and announced that all its six MPs in the Rajya Sabha would vote against the Bill. The Shiv Sena made its opposition to the Bill clear following an “appeal” by AGP. The NPP, which heads the Meghalaya government, too has threatened to walk out of the NDA on the issue.

BJP contends that what it has done is no more than a ‘long overdue redressal of a historical wrong inflicted on a hapless section of a population of undivided India’. It has a point since Hindus, Sikhs and Christians left behind in the new Islamic Republic of Pakistan have been leading the life of second class citizens with the fear of forced conversions, forced abduction (of young girls), and above all forced migration haunting them day and night. Today the Hindus account for just 1.6% of Pakistan’s population (down from 23% in 1947). Their number in Bangladesh has dropped to 10% from 29%. As the Bangladesh war progressed, “Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Muslim military hatred”, said Times magazine, in a report “Pakistan: The Ravaging of Golden Bengal”.

Pakistani text books have no mention of Hindu rulers or Sikh history. In fact the Pakistani elite and Muslim clergy consider the Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule from Lahore over what is today’s Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond as bad. Pakistani Sikhs are hurt naturally. More so the Nanakpanthi Sindhis, who are largely based in the Sindh province, and follow the teachings of the first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev.

This digression for a historical perspective brings up not one but two questions.

One: why should we, the present generation, pay for the sins of our forefathers? Whoever had remained in Pakistan (or Bangladesh) and did not board the train to India in August 1947, were not unaware of the future that awaited them in the land of the pure.

Two: Is it fair to treat a Hindu /Sikh /Buddhist / Christian/Jain/Parsi escaping persecution on par with the illegal Muslim immigrants to India?

This question pops up two equally loaded questions: One: Where will they, the Hindus et al, go if not to India, which is the land of their forefathers? Two: Why should Muslim immigrants be treated as aliens when they were part and parcel of British India, and became foreigners because of a historical wrong.

There are no ready answers to any of these questions. Nor is there any one recalling today the way India treated Ugandan Indians and Burmese Indians, when they were booted out of their homes by whimsical leaders?

Prime Minister Modi has not helped his cause by not fielding these questions. Both he and his party President Amit Shah were harsh on the illegal immigrants in the run up to the 2014 election; while Shah termed them termites, Modi had promised to throw them out of Assam. Neither the two nor any of their colleagues in Delhi or Guwahati has bothered to allay the apprehensions of northeastern people, who have been witness to a steady demographic change in several pockets, courtesy local Congress politicians, who cultivated a captive vote bank.

Today in a telling commentary on vote politics, the Congress and TMC are in the forefront of the anti-Citizenship bill movement. The GOP is silent on its failure, as a ruling party in Delhi and Guwahati, to implement the Assam Accord, which had provided for identification and deportation of illegal immigrants. But for this failure, Ahoms and indigenous tribes would not have become a minority in nine districts of Assam out of 27 in the state.

BJP may have done its electoral homework but it did not put in place a strategy that has the potential to facilitate a quick march to the goal post. Otherwise it would not have landed in the political quicksand that the Citizenship issue has become.

The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was introduced in 2016. It has sought to amend the Citizenship Act of 1955. A joint parliamentary committee (JPC) examined the bill. Its visit to Assam from May 7 to 10, 2018 to elicit public opinion saw the entire north-east rise as one man opposing the bill.

Yet, the BJP made no effort to ‘educate’ the people that the bill is not North-east centric but provides relief to persecuted migrants who have come through western borders of the country to states like Gujarat, Rajasthan, Delhi, and Madhya Pradesh. Instead, its leaders have gone to the town with the rhetoric that it is natural for harassed Hindus to seek shelter in India. And that the Modi sarkar is completing the unfinished business of Partition”.

Prime Minister Modi himself played up this theme on January 4 at Silchar (Barak Valley) when he described the new Citizenship law as an “atonement” for mistakes committed during Partition. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav too cited Partition as a justification. But Assam and rest of Northeast see a local context. More so since some eight to nine lakh Bengali Hindus, who had migrated before 2014 are likely to be left out of the National Register of Citizens, (NRC) Assam is updating these days. Assam’s strongman Himanta Biswa Sarma literally gave away the BJP game when he told a TV channel that “if the Citizenship bill is not passed, 17 Assamese seats, which elect Assamese people, will go the Jinnah way.”

Result is numerous signs that said, for instance, “Hello China, Bye Bye India” in Christian majority Mizoram that was once rocked by China- Pakistan backed insurgency.

Now, who should set about cooling the frayed tempers? Undoubtedly it is the responsibility of the BJP and its extended Parivar. Short term pursuits always herald an early requiem as the Shah Bano case has proved beyond doubt in the Rajiv era. Well, BJP and its allies have still time to put their act together in order to bridge the trust deficit vis-à-vis the northeast. But the million dollar question is: Will they? Your guess is as good as mine.

( This article appeared in the March issue of Power Politics)

Ha, Ha! Pakistan Demands Nobel For Imran

You have to grudgingly admire the Pakistani pluckiness. It is never shamed! It never sees obvious contradictions in its own words and action. It does not bat an eyelid in releasing a torrent of lies and perennial denials. So, the demand for Nobel for Imran Khan should cause no surprise.

It was a clever PR exercise by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan to release Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman of the IAF, two days after capturing him when his Mig-21 Bison, shot by a Pakistani missile, fell inside Pakistan. But before Pakistan could actually capitalize on any ‘gain’ from its decision it resorted to an absurd but not a surprising ploy by detaining him for nearly five hours after his reported release from military captivity for a grotesque propaganda video. That kind of Pakistani proclivity was amply displayed not very long ago from the disgraceful manner in which the wife and the mother of Kulbhushan Jadhav, put on the death row after a sham closed door trial in a military court, were treated during a brief meeting arranged by the Pakistani army/ISI.

They were separated by a glass wall and were not allowed to speak to him in their mother tongue Marathi. The two Indian women were not allowed to wear their chappals and Saris because, hold your breath, they were hiding something ‘suspicious’! Instead, they had to settle for the footwear and apparels provided by the Pakistani sleuths, which, of course, did not hide anything ‘suspicious’.

But even before you ponder over the habitual Pakistani chicanery, it was reported that the Pakistani government wants the Nobel Peace prize for Imran Khan! There must be some desperation about it in Pakistan despite at least two Pakistanis winning the Nobel Peace Prize in the not too distant past. The first, mathematician-scientist Abdus Salam shared the award with two other physicists in 1979 but Pakistan is not happy to recognize his honour because he was an Ahmadiyya. For the Sunni- dominated Pakistan, Ahmadiyyas are heretics.

The second Nobel award, to Malala Yusufzai, is also not well received in the highly radicalized Pakistani society because she speaks against the orthodoxy and obstructionism propagated by the powerful Mullahs, allies of Imran Khan, which makes her a ‘Western stooge’ in the eyes of most Pakistanis.

The dim-witted who have demanded the Nobel Peace Prize for Imran Khan, a cricketer also known in the past for his playboy image, obviously believe in their own fiction that Khan’s gesture of releasing the Indian Airforce officer—an obligation under international covenant–had achieved, or was near to achieving, the ‘miracle’ of peace between India and Pakistan.

And a ‘miracle’ it has to be since Pakistan talks of peace in words while unhesitatingly exhibiting its evil intentions against India through various acts, beginning with the deployment of the army of its terrorists, ISI-nursed and-backed terrorists, against India.

Perhaps more by accident than design, a fresh proof of Pakistan’s malevolent intentions came almost at the same time the clamour for Nobel Peace Prize for Imran Khan was raised in Pakistan. The ever grumbling and frequently sulking foreign minister Shah Muhammad Qureshi told the BBC during a brief interview with its correspondent (of Pakistani descent) that the terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed had not said it was behind the Pulwama attack that killed over 40 troops. The fact is that JeM had said so loud and clear through a video released just after the Pulwama attack on February 14.

Earlier Minister Qureshi had told the CNN that JeM was indeed based in Pakistan. He had added rather gratuitously that its chief, Maulana Masood Azhar, was ‘very ill’ and was not in a position to leave his home. A local media reported that the Maulana was being treated in a military hospital.

The Pakistani minister was probably sulking when he spoke those words: He had boycotted an OIC meet because India had been invited as an ‘honoured guest’. That gave him ulcers. By the way, the man was in India at the time of the Mumbai terror attacks in November 2008.

The Pakistani tantrum had had no effect on the OIC. If anything it must have lowered the Pakistani stock among its 50-odd members. How Pakistan makes a spectacle of itself! Nearly 50 years ago when OIC met for the first time at Rabat (Morocco), Pakistan had moved heaven and earth to keep India out of the meeting after the Indian delegation had arrived in the city. The then president of Pakistan, Gen Yahya Khan who acquired fame for keeping constant company of the amber stuff—and a ‘nightingale’ singer—refused to come out of his hotel suite if India attended the meeting.

Pakistan, then a darling of the US by virtue of which it strived for leadership of the Islamic world, was able to have its way then. Nearly half a century down the line when Pakistan has amassed nuclear bombs, it was its turn to be humiliated by the OIC which did not pay heed to its cribbing and protest against inviting India.

But you have to grudgingly admire the Pakistani pluckiness. It is never shamed! It never sees obvious contradictions in its own words and action. It does not bat an eyelid in releasing a torrent of lies and perennial denials. So, the demand for Nobel for Imran Khan should cause no surprise.

Perhaps, Pakistanis have drawn inspiration from some of the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize who were widely believed to be undeserving. In 1973, Henry Kissinger a known India-baiting, Pakistan-loving US secretary of state under Richard Nixon, the paramount India-hating US president, was awarded the Nobel peace along with the North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho. Awarding a ‘peace’ prize to a hawkish Kissinger shocked many in the world, but perhaps none more than Le Duc Tho who declined to share it with Kissinger. Besides, peace had not returned to the two Vietnams by then.

President Barack Obama of the US was declared the Nobel Peace Prize winner within 12 days of assuming office—by all means an incredible achievement that left many utterly astounded. Imran Khan, in the unlikely event of being actually chosen for the award, will deal a shock to the world outside Pakistan.

On second thoughts; the possibility of rewarding a Pakistani leader cannot be entirely ruled out when the Nobel Peace Prize has often been accused of being awarded on political consideration. The US remains the leading voice in the West which has decided to resurrect Pakistan out of its isolation in order to escape from the Afghan quagmire with its help. There is also a history of the Nobel Peace committee’s lack of transparency in choosing the Nobel winners. Do we, then, wait with bated breath for the Nobel announcements or laugh at the Pakistani temerity?

– Allabaksh

Anna Hazare’s Failed Resurrection Bid

By Atul Cowshish

The contribution of Anna Hazare and his anti-corruption agitation in bringing BJP to power in 2014 was by no means small. He provided the initial momentum for the anticorruption movement in the country which the RSS/BJP cadres were able to turn into a whirlwind with blitzkrieg of verbal attacks by Narendra Modi on the then government. Anna was hailed as an anti-graft crusader par excellence.

The frail body of the septuagenarian Anna had shaken the rulers as people flocked in thousands to hear him. The government of the day would send emissaries of the cabinet rank to talk him out of his agitation. Today, he vainly struggles to be heard by the government. The harsh truth is that facing a stubborn government, he has not been able to resurrect his anti-graft crusader-cum-social reformer image of the past.

Anna Hazare is past the halcyon days of his glory. It will not be an exaggeration to say that in the last few years, coinciding with the ascendancy of the BJP, he has been relegated to the ranks of one of the many ‘social activists’; no more a figure feared by the rulers throughout the nation. The stage for his agitation has been confined to the courtyard in a temple in his village, Ralegaon Siddhi in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district; in earlier days it was the Ramlila Maidan in the national capital. Does anyone remember that in March last year he had sat on another fast at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi? It hardly noticed any crowd and it ended with a whimper, though he retreated by threatening to go on another fast.

His ‘indefinite fasts’ or threats of agitation for an ombudsman and remunerative prices for farmers begin and end without drawing much attention. Take the latest instance when he began his hunger strike on January 30 and ended seven days later: it hardly made headlines in the media. In fact, sections of the media almost ignored his fast.
True, the Maharashtra chief minister, Devendra Phadnavis, along with a central and state minister did call on him to urge him to give up his fast after the visiting team of ministers had promised to ‘fulfill’ his demands—ombudsman and a better deal for the distressed farmers. Actually, his demand for solving the farmers’ issue is quite specific: implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations that seek to make MSP remunerative in real sense. Electoral reforms, especially curbing the role of money in polls, have also been among his major demands. There is an even lesser chance of these demands being met.

With the installation of the Modi-led government in May 2014 he had perhaps voluntarily withdrawn himself into the background, sure that the centre and the state governments would appoint post haste Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas respectively to bring transparency and probity in governance.

Demanding the appointment of an ombudsman for the country, he had gone on a much publicized hunger strike in Delhi about eight years ago which ended only after the assurance that his wish would be fulfilled was conveyed to him by cabinet ministers. Soon afterwards the outgoing government passed the Lok Pal bill.

Then with the Modi government firmly in the saddle started the usual procrastinations. He waited through 2015 for Lok Pal to become a reality; he kept waiting through subsequent years but the Lok Pal remained a dream.

Anna Hazare should be ready for being taken for another ride by the government when it says that it will expedite the process of the appointment of the Lok Pal at the centre and Lok Ayuktas in the states where it has not been done. The NDA government has been in power for almost five years and yet it has failed to appoint a Lok Pal, hiding behind the excuse of non-cooperation by the Opposition Congress.

Anna should take a look at the way the government steamrolled its way into the appointment of a CBI director despite the ‘non-cooperation’ by the Opposition. Forget Lok Pal at the centre, many of the BJP-ruled states have failed to appoint Lok Ayuktas.

Some of the past and present observations of Anna Hazare may provide clue to why he seems to have lost his sheen. A day prior to beginning his January 30 fast, he had accused the BJP of ‘betrayal’ and having become ‘allergic’ to him after coming to power. He was also critical of Arvind Kejriwal’s decision to leap into active politics.

It was the same BJP, along with the RSS, that had helped fan his anti-graft movement. He has acknowledged that. Anna Hazare may be preparing himself for another ‘betrayal’ by the ruling party if the government fails to appoint a Lok Pal and Lok Ayuktas in all the states.

Since coming to power, the BJP has faced many allegations of corruption and cronyism and lack of transparency in governance. Of course, thanks largely to a friendly—if not pliant—media, the ruling party has kept up the façade of being a ‘clean’ party. But a Lok Pal, when appointed, may have to examine the allegations.

It was evident even at the peak of his India Against Corruption movement that Anna Hazare is given to hasty and summary judgements. He was an admirer of Narendra Modi, at least during his early years in office, and was also a supporter of his much-criticised ‘Notebandi’ (demonetization) in November 2016. Echoing the line of Modi, he had said that banning of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes would eliminate black money, corruption and terrorism.

It is not known if he said something about the devastating effects of ‘Notebandi’ on farmers and small and medium businesses. Again, his views on some of the controversial current issues, like the Rafale aircraft deal, are not known. As a crusader of probity and transparency he ought to have taken a stand and put pressure on the government to come clean. That is expected of an anti-graft crusader par excellence.

Good Bye George Saheb

By Malladi Rama Rao

He may have died as a loner 28 days after welcoming 2019, confined as he was to bed with Alzheimer’s disease for close to two decades but history will be kind to George Fernandes, the Catholic from down South, who strode the national scene as a fierce trade unionist, a diehard socialist and nationalist, who made the BJP mainstream when everyone else was treating the Hindutva champion as a political pariah. He was a complex bundle of contradictions no doubt but all through his 88-year long innings, he gave primacy to personal equations over ideology, earning the sobriquet ‘The Eternal Rebel is a Peerless Friend’.

When I met him in 1978 in the Lushai hills, he was basking in the afterglow of kicking out two giant MNCs from India. I expected him to hold forth on the MNC evils. Instead, to my surprise, he went into a lament over his fraternity – the trade unions. “These friends (he identified some with their first name) talk something with me in my office and talk the opposite when they meet you (media)”, he said candidly, highlighting a malady – inability to take a public stand honestly – that has been afflicting trade union movement in the country. It is this trait of being straightforward made Purno A Sangma, the man from the Garo Hills who went on to become the Speaker of 11th Lok Sabha, catch the attention of the eternal anti-Congress man with a sharp memory.

George Saheb, as Fernandes was known amongst his friends and acolytes, was so impressed with Sangma that he wanted the first time Congress Parliamentarian (in 1977) to join the Morarji Desai –led Janata Party. “He flew in from Mumbai just to meet me. We spoke for long hours. He assured me a bright future (at the national level), but I was unwilling to leave the Congress”, Sangma told me years later when he had finally left the Congress to float the NCP with Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar in January 2013. And credited his success as Labour Minister in the P V Narasimha Rao government to the guidance he received from Fernandes. “You see, I do not have any trade union background. George Saheb did not want me to fail”.

Sharad Yadav, who has his own Loktantrik Janata Dal (LJD), also has fond memories of George Saheb. He was the man who had inducted the engineering student from Jabalpur into politics. “George Saheb taught me the rough and tumble of politics. He was also instrumental in me getting a ticket, to contest my first election in 1974, resolutely persuading Jayaprakash Narayan to hand me one”.


Born in Mangalore in a middle-class family in 1930, George Mathew Fernandes had his trade union baptism in Bombay (Mumbai now) and entered political scene through the Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC). By 1967 he became the giant killer by defeating as the Samyukta Socialist Party candidate, the Congress strongman of the city, S.K. Patil in Bombay South constituency. The railway strike he had organized seven years later in 1974 shook the Indira Gandhi regime. Massive crackdown and emergency followed in quick succession as also the joke “Where is the train? It is in AIR news”.

Post-emergency, national politics changed. Fernandes acquired ‘Bihari roots’ with Muzaffarpur and Nalanda providing the props. Muzaffarpur rooted for him without seeing him in person as he was held behind the bars in the emergency era Baroda dynamite conspiracy case. A photograph of Fernandes, with his shock of unkempt hair, raising a handcuffed hand in defiance remains one of the most enduring images of the times. For people of Nalanda, he remains the ‘Jarje Saheb’ who gifted them an ordnance factory and a Sainik School. Significantly, Muzaffarpur rejected him in 2009 as he had lost his clout in the Janata family, and became an ‘independent’ warrior. After nine stints in the Lok Sabha as a man of action, he was elevated by his party to the Rajya Sabha as if to keep him occupied; the term lasted for one year from August 2009 to July 2010.

In the Morarji government, he had held the Industries portfolio and booted out Coca Cola and IBM. He managed the Railways for the VP Singh ministry, and paved the way for Konkan Railway. He was also VP Singh’s Kashmir Affairs Minister and formed a troika with Home Minister Mufti Sayeed and Governor Jagmohan to handle the crisis gripping Kashmir.

And in the Vajpayee-led NDA government, he was defence minister. His 18 visits to Siachen glacier to mingle with the soldiers on the world’s highest battlefield remains an unbroken record. Also two other diktats – the sack orders to serving naval chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat for rejecting the Cabinet decision to elevate Vice-Admiral Harinder Singh as Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, and the ‘Go to Siachen’ order to the defence ministry babus who had questioned the financial justification for the procurement of snow mobiles for the Army.

According to former Air Chief Marshal, S. Krishnaswamy, George Fernandes never interfered in defence acquisition or promotion plans. His tenure as defence minister was marred by controversies though, and resulted in his resignation in 2004. He however returned to the helm of defence ministry as an inquiry commission absolved him of the charge of corruption in the purchase of coffins for Kargil martyrs.

His New Delhi residence at 3, Krishna Menon Marg was the asylum to the Tibetan refugees, Lankan Tamils in search of Tamil Eelam, Myanmar’s pro- democracy rebels, and even our own Manipuris and Naga rebel groups. He did not evict any of these groups when he became a Minister; yes, even after the Sri Lankan government stated that “the LTTE’s biggest supporter in India is Defence Minister George Fernandes”. These rebels enjoyed freedom of movement inside the house, and even outside to an extent. I met many of them in the unkempt backyard for ‘bytes’ without hindrance in the nineties.
There is an interesting aside to the Fernandes abode as the Krishna Menon Marg residence was known. At one time the Home Minister of the day, S B Chavan used to stay in the house across the road. Every time his convoy came out, Police rushed to Fernandes house demanding that the main gate be closed. An irritated Fernandes pulled down the gate itself. A bizarre protest? Well it was but Fernandes was like that.

It is always not easy to analyze Fernandes, the socialist, rationally. As Morarji’s minister, he defended the Prime Minister vociferously on the floor of Parliament one day and the very next day, he sided with the challenger, Charan Singh. Why he had lent support to V P. Singh in the post-Bofors saga remains unclear till date. His argument: “If there was no V.P. Singh, we would have had to discover one”.

His alliance with the BJP is no more than an ideological somersault; it defies logic since it was forged shortly after the demolition of Ram Janmabhoomi -Babri Masjid structure. Well, even after discounting for the personal equation between Fernandes and Lal Krishna Advani! The tie-up with the Socialists helped the BJP to shed its Brahmin- Bani image and extend its influence to rural areas.

Fernandes lost some of his sheen, however, in Graham Staines murder case. He attributed the murder of Orissa based Christian missionary by a mob led by Bajrang Dal member Dara Singh to “an international conspiracy mounted by those who wanted the BJP government in power at the Centre, to go”.

Fernandes can claim credit for ending Lalu hegemony in Bihar during the 1990s. Lalu invited his wrath through words and deeds. Nitish Kumar and Abdul Ghafoor closed ranks with Fernandes to float yet another socialist amoeba, Samata party in 1994. A year later the Samata Party merged with Janata Dal (United). Nitish- Fernandes equation did not last long. Frail health made ‘George Saheb’ loose his aura, and become a loner in the party and personal life alike. Nitish replaced Fernandes as the national president of the party with Sharad Yadav. He also denied in 2009 JD –U ticket to Fernandes from Muzaffarpur.

By then Fernandes was not the same George Fernandes. He was not mentally alert and looked lost, according to many Biharis and JD-U leaders. That was my impression too when I met him in his study (at his Krishna Menon Marg residence) a couple of days after the Eelam War ended on May 18, 2009. His old-time ally and former Samta Party colleague Jaya Jaitly tried to gently help him but to no avail.

Priyanka Storm Hits Indian Politics

by Atul Cowshish

The timing of the appointment of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as a general secretary of the Indian National Congress and given charge of eastern UP unleashed a political storm across the country and enlivened the political scene with some substantive debates, instead of the vituperative public discourses heard on TV channels and party briefings.

Some of these comments appeared way too bizarre—comparing Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the Congress ‘Brahmastra’—the ultimate weapon. A realistic assessment would have required some restraint in speculating about what she will be able to do for the party to make it the dominant political force it once was. But that cannot be done at this juncture.
The largely Modi-admiring media was shaken enough to view Priyanka’s appointment as a Congress strategy to cash in on the declining popularity of the prime minister by projecting her as a popular youth leader. But there is nothing at present to conclude that Priyanka will pose a serious challenge to Narendra Modi whose ‘marketing’ skill is universally known.

Priyanka’s brother Rahul Gandhi, the Congress president, might have been surprised to discover that he was actually praised in some otherwise unfriendly quarters for asking Priyanka to hold an official position in the Congress and take on the onerous duty of reviving the Congress in the difficult terrain of eastern UP.

Of course, critics of the ‘dynasty’ got busy instantly, but for once their crackle could not be heard over the din of praise for an act of the Congress president. It hardly helped the ruling dispensation that after the formal baptismal of Priyanka it could think of nothing beyond the usual charge of promotion of ‘dynasty’ and Rahul Gandhi’s alleged failure to galvanize the Congress.

The induction of Rahul Gandhi’s sister in active Congress politics was always on the cards and hardly a matter of surprise. But the wide attention given to her assignment in the party is the result of a somewhat exaggerated belief that the 47-year-old Priyanka will come with a magic wand that will restore the fortunes of the Grand Old Party in UP and, indeed, in the rest of the country.

Creditable as the Congress victory in the recent assembly polls in three Hindi-speaking states was the real test for the party will come at the time of the Lok Sabha polls early in summer. Priyanka’s foremost task is to help the Congress put up a good show in the Lok Sabha polls in one half of UP, the eastern part of it. For the Congress, an impressive performance in all of UP, not just one part becomes necessary after the snub it received from the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance that kept the Congress out and later brought the RLD on board.

A reading of the current political scenario in UP would suggest that the electoral scales are tilted in favor of the SP-BSP alliance which together will claim support of nearly half the electorate of the state, particularly the OBCs and Muslims, while the RLD will bring in the Jat votes of west UP. The Congress hope may rest on the upper caste votes and its once solid bloc of SC/ST and Muslim votes but this pie of voters will also be claimed by the BJP. The Congress will not get a cent percent share.

The BJP was able to penetrate various caste groups (minus the Muslim votes) in the last parliamentary polls. To expect Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to break through the supporters of all other parties—BJP and non-BJP–and deliver an impressive tally from the nearly 40 Lok Sabha seats in eastern UP appears to be a tough call.

The hoopla over Priyanka’s formal entry in Congress politics stems from the belief that her ‘charisma’ will work across the country. That means that she might have to take extensive tours through the length and breadth of the country during the Lok Sabha poll campaign and not remain confined to eastern UP.

On the other hand, it is just possible that she spends more time in eastern UP than other parts of the country. That may true if she is asked to contest the Lok Sabha poll from her mother’s constituency, Rai Bareilly.

How different her role will be from her last foray in campaigning—in 2014? She had confined herself more or less to Sonia Gandhi’s constituency and made it possible for her mother to retain her seat—one of the only two won by the Congress, the other winner being Rahul Gandhi, in 2014.

The upshot of it all is that while Priyanka Gandhi Vadra may be able to draw larger votes to the Congress than her brother, her ability to energize the Congress in UP and elsewhere has to be on display before the Lok Sabha polls get underway.

If she has to fulfill the prophecy of political pundits, she has to establish her credentials as an all-India leader and not of a part of a state, no matter how large it is. That places her as a challenger to her brother who finally managed to infuse enough life into the ‘dormant’ Congress to score a hat trick of victories. In the immediate and near future, Priyanka is very unlikely to be promoted over her brother.

So, while she may gain importance within the party in the coming days and months, she will not have the occasion or opportunity to live up to the hype created around her as the ‘ultimate weapon’ of the Congress. But what does look possible is that depending upon Lok Sabha results from eastern UP, Rahul Gandhi may utilize in whatever manner he thinks fit the services of his sister to restore the Congress to its original health.

The most urgent task for the Congress is to make the party machinery fit and strong enough to take on the Modi juggernaut which will roll with all guns blazing in the coming months. It will be a mistake to think that Rahul Gandhi can achieve this task only with the help of his sister. After all, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was hardly visible during the recent triumph of the Congress in three state assembly polls. She may have played a role in the selection of chief ministers in one or two these states, but that kind of backroom exercise she probably has been doing for long.


By Malladi Rama Rao

Book Review
1.Pakistan Adrift – Navigating Troubled Waters
Author: Asad Durrani.
Pages 260; Price: Rs. 699
Publisher: Westland Publications Pvt Limited, Chennai

2. Pakistan Under Seize, Extremism, Society and The State
Author: Madiha Afzal
Pages: 191 Price: Rs. 599
Publisher: Penguin Random House India

Two latest books from Pakistan offer an interesting perspective on India’s neighbour who wants to make this country bleed with thousands of cuts. Asad Durrani, whose name is familiar to the Indian readers and the intelligence community, alike offers a combination of memoirs and reflections laced with dry wit and anecdotes to deliver a homily to his erstwhile brethren in Khaki- that military rule both fails to solve problems and corrupts the soldiers. He has no high opinion of the political class as well. Unlike Durrani, Madiha Afzal is an academic and rank outsider to the system. A Ph.D. in economics from Yale University, she is presently a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution. Her research takes us to the intersection of development, security and political economy, with focus on Pakistan.

Durrani’s account is of Pakistan adrift. He dubs the ills afflicting Pakistan as a self-inflected wound. “My account is an attempt to describe how most of what happened in the country was the outcome of our (Pakistan’s) own decisions, though these were indeed influenced by circumstances, and not because of a hidden hand at the wheel,” he tells the reader at the very outset. And when he tried to make this point at a few forums, “some members of the audience walked out in disbelief.”

Madiha narrative is not a top-down security perspective, nor is it limited to the actions of the state. She takes recourse to rigorous analysis and uses interviews and surveys to fill out the picture of Pakistan’s relationship with extremism. Het methodical approach is novel, and she uses it to dispute the American (also of sections of Indians) characterisation of Pakistanis as irrational fundamentalists. Pakistan has its demons, and more, no doubt but its story is far more complex, she argues in defence of the land of her birth from her American perch.

Like Durrani, Madiha blames the establishment for the extremism sweeping through the land of the pure. She did not break any new ground when she tells the reader that Pakistan’s Islamisation programme that mainstreamed the extremist narrative was guided by strategic considerations and that it was achieved through manipulating the country’s laws and education system. She uses field work to elaborate on the theme. If the reader is expecting her to go full blast against the state, disappointment is in store since she mumbles the observation that “the state could not have imagined the enormous ramifications of these choices on Pakistan’s society and on its security”.

Her primer on Pakistan’s terrorist groups that range from Afghan Taliban to India centric LeT of Hafeez Saeed, and the Kashmir centric JeM of Masood Azhar, her narrative on the reach of Islamists, particularly of Jamaat and Jamiat variety, her account of Madrasas and their links to extremism make a factual reading though. Dar-ul-Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak has been the incubator of extremism. Its founder, Sami-ul-Haq, who was assassinated recently, is known as the Father of Taliban. Each year more than 18000 children in the age group of six and plus vie for admission in his madrasa.

Enrolment numbers are one aspect of the madrasa story. Their influence is linked to “their problematic, unregulated curricula and the reach of their graduates, many of whom go on to become clerics at mosques and Islamic Studies teachers in public schools, thus exercising a far- reaching effect on Pakistan’s society and its youth.” Madrasas are by definition sectarian. And many madrasas teach jihadi literature “much of which is not publicly available” (Para 2, Page 134). Their text books teach intolerance towards religious minorities, and state that non-Muslims are not equal to Muslims, One text books openly calls for killing on the spots murtads ( Muslims who have turned away from Islam) while another says such extra judicial execution is not to be subjected to prosecution. Post 9/11, the United States had pumped in thousands of dollars to reform the madrasa system. The programme has made little headway till date with Pakistan’s penchant for economy on political will.

Asad Durrani terms as myth the perception about the American factor in Pakistan. “The perception that nothing of any significance happened in Pakistan without American blessing was our own (Pakistan’s) contribution to the mythic relationship”, he says blandly. If it is indeed so, how come the world has come to see America as a part of “A” trinity (the others are Allah and Saudi Arabia) that guides the destiny of Pakistan? Durrani fields the question with effortless ease. And remarks: “Those amongst us (Pakistanis) who jumped onto their bandwagon for favours or in the belief that the country’s best interests were served by collaboration or compliance must have contributed to this misconception”.

Durrani’s’ take on Afghan imbroglio is no less interesting. “The beneficiaries of the status quo (on Afghan theatre) – as in the Indo-Pak equation – were unwilling to rock the boat.” Who are these beneficiaries? “It dawned on us rather late that the resistance to a negotiated settlement came from those in Kabul who would lose their perks (perhaps even their lives) if this were achieved, and it came from their benefactor, the US, who, if there were peace, might be denied a military foothold in Afghanistan”.

While on the home scene, Asad Durrani does not think that illiterate masses can be blamed for chronic ailments, such as corruption, inefficiency and apathy plaguing Pakistan. Instead he showers fulsome prise on them, saying “they sustained us through their hard work, primarily because they remained outside the stranglehold of our highly literate establishment”. Pakistan’s biggest malaise, he says, is “elitism”. Talking about the swings of the power pendulum, the man who was an insider at one time in the past, takes a dig at his own fraternity. “The power brokers in uniform have often been asked why they picked the likes of the Bhuttos, the Sharifs and (Altaf) Hussain to do their bidding only to regret these choices afterwards. I cannot think of a good answer except that most of the time it was to get rid of a known evil in the belief that if the next one proved no better, he or she might at least be more pliable. It never worked”. (Para 3, Page 252)

The sleuth turned commentator has a homily for his fellow countrymen on Pakistan’s image. “If anyone seriously believes that we can fool the world he is living in a make believe one”, because “in principle building images which contrast with the situation on the ground is an illusory exercise”. He elaborates thus: “Pakistan’s image rose and fell in direct proportion to its role as the front loading or back-stabbing ally of the mightiest of powers on earth”. Clearly, Durrani appears to endorse Donald Trump’s Tweet on the First Day of 2018 that “the United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools”.

(*Thus review first appeared in Power Politics)

Vote for who can hold their tongue?

By Malladi Rama Rao

With Election Commission’s plans to announce the Lok Sabha poll schedule in the first week of March, the countdown has begun for Narendra Modi’s tryst with destiny. Will his performance from the Race Course Road perch in Lyuten’s Delhi fetch him the coveted second term?

Mamatas, Naidus, and Rahuls, as also Mayawatis, Yadavs, and Pawars are banking on the elusive X factor to achieve “BJP Mukt” Bharat. In the process, they have helped to make real Lal Krishna Advani’s dream of making the BJP occupy the central place of the Grand Old Party (GOP) in the Indian political theatre. Advani’s story of a tall leader side-lined during his own lifetime in the very party that he had helped to build with Ram and Hindutva as his clutches is as much a sad commentary on Moditva as on his own inability to read the changed pulse of the Parivar. Interestingly, Ram no longer figures high on the BJP agenda, notwithstanding the publicly stated resolve of Hindutva practitioners to build a grand temple at the birthplace of Ram Lalla; Yogi Adityanath’s plans for a Ram Statue on the banks of Saryu River are a consolation prize at the best.

Bhaiyyaji Joshi, Sarkaryavahak of the Hindu Brother-hood, RSS, has made this abundantly clear in his Kumbh Mela lecture delivered two days after Makar Sankranti on 17 January. “Our mission is to get Ram temple constructed by 2025”, he said, which in effect means that the Parivar is not pushing for quick-fix solutions for Ram Lalla temple.
Joshi-speak comes as a big disappointment to the secularists, who have been girding up their loins for a showdown with the Parivar and its proxies. It is, however, sweet music to Modi-Shah combine, who have sleepwalked into the temple trap in what was no more than an effort to please the Parivar, and its extended arms. Well, Modi took care to say that a temple ordinance will have to wait “till the legal process runs its course.” That was no big concession though. As Prime Minister, he is duty bound to uphold the constitution and the law. This is one reason why he has allowed his Sancho Panza to sing the old theme while he himself goes about accusing Congress and its friendly lawyer fraternity of turning Ayodhya title dispute hearings into a hurdle race at the Supreme Court.

In the Mandir politics, we have sadly lost sight of the great relevance Ram’s philosophy has for today’s India, where discrimination is rampant, inequalities are deep-rooted and harmony carries a premium. Whether Ram is accepted as God or as a king of repute, there is an unmistakable symbolism our netas have not paid attention to the message inherent in the Gandhian creed of Ram Rajya thus far. Like Hinduism, Ayodhya Ram’s rule represents a philosophy that encompasses all walks of life. And it shows how a king should conduct himself. Put differently, Ram Rajya is good governance particularly at the cutting edge, and it is to this principle that Gandhiji had strived to draw everyone’s attention with his observation that “India lives in villages

What we have done in Independent India is we have reduced Ram to an election symbol and gave a go-by to the universal concept of service to the poor and needy. Of course, there is no gainsaying the fact that Gram Swaraj could have provided manna we badly need and helped us to address many of the ills afflicting Indian economy. Certainly, farmers would have found no need to end their lives in distress even when there is a bumper crop.

For farmers, animals are an asset in terms of household economy and farming alike. No surprise, therefore, Indian villagers worship cows, oxen, and buffaloes during Makara Sankranti, which is a 3-4 day festival of harvest. In several parts of India, travel is prohibited on the day of cattle worship with everyone subscribing to the age-old adage that not even crows fly out today. Shorn of religious symbolism, what this practice means is that let us not take out our bullock carts on the very day we are worshiping our animals. It highlights the importance of cows and other cattle, which are revered irrespective of religious, caste or community considerations. Milk and curd remain the same whether its consumer is a Hindu, Muslim or Christian. A cow does not ask caste and religion before giving its milk. Nor does it resist mulching just because of your caste or creed. Milk and cow dung have no religion.

Trivialisation of cattle in the name of Hindutva and drawing blood in the name of stray menace or ‘prohibited’ meat lead India nowhere. Agreed these traits have made their presence felt over the past four years. Whether the Hindutva champions are guilty (they are indeed, going by an overwhelming view) or whether anti-social elements exploited the fluid social scene with the full backing of vested political interests (Parivar view) is a debate that will make us miss the woods for the trees.

The need is for enlightened thinking, an ability to appreciate and welcome all that has come down the ages. Let us not belittle what is written in ancient texts in fields as diverse as Astronomy and Ayurveda just because these are not known to or not endorsed by Ivy Leagues of Eldorado we are familiar with today. Indians should not become hostage to political labels and religious brands that have neither a bearing nor a meaning either in the past or in the present – most certainly in the future. Let us not become ignoramus of our heritage, and culture, which are India’s strength, and thus become victims of competitive politics for power.

As the man in the driver’s seat, Narendra Modi has a great responsibility in leading the march from the front. It is a historic opportunity that beckons him and his ilk. History will be truly unkind if he shuns or ducks. In fact, all the leading lights of the Hindutva will also do well to read the writing on the wall and ensure there is no room for the lament “Yeh Mulk Mera Hai, Mujhe Koi Nikaal Nahi Sakta”.

While on religion and Indian society, celebrated actor, Naseeruddin Shah says he is angry though not scared by what is happening. Why should anyone be scared? Some may have made it their agenda, and they may want to force some sections to feel scared. What will they achieve except deepening the fault-lines we have inherited 72 years ago. We, as a nation of 125 crore people should not allow the creed of fear to spread or succeed.

Naseeruddin has articulated this very sentiment when he said: “This is my nation and if something wrong is happening here, it’s my duty to speak against it. If an angry mob surrounded my children and asked if they are Hindu or Muslim, they would have no answer. My five generations have been engraved in this nation’s soil and my children will also stay here till they die.” What made Naseeruddin angry makes every one of us angry too since all of us are stakeholders in the well-being of this country.

Pertinent to recall is the observation of a Telugu poet, Devulapalli Krishna Sastri (1897 –1980), who is known as Andhra Shelly, for his romantic and passionate poetry: “Narayana Narayana Allah Allah, Narayana Moorthy your children we are all….If religion is to blind my eyes, religion is not for me. Allah O’ Allah we are all your children”. Whoever be the practitioners or proponents of cow jihad and love jihad or whoever has exploited these very issues, like they did with award vapasi campaign will have to pay a price when they knock at the ballot box. This is the message that is still relevant from the historic 1977 election that had proved beyond an iota of doubt that all short term pursuits carry a long term political cost.

Now that a senior RSS leader has quietly pushed Mandir to the back burner, the Congress party can legitimately feel that it has been let down, very badly. And its chief Rahul Gandhi can go about charging the “Chowkidaar” with cheating him of a key plank. If the expectation from the mandir rollback is that GOP Netas particularly Young Turks schooled in social media will give up their time tested weapon for flying paper planes hoping to spread Rafale dismay amongst the Parivar, disappointment is bound to stare at them. In political wars, neither truth nor fact is sacred. What only matters is the ability to speak as the custodians of truth and upholders of national interest. This tribe is not in short supply in our land.

Modi could have avoided the Rafale blues had he turned to his own acclaimed oratorical skills to debunk the criticism. He did not and stuck to his attacks on the First Family that have lost their novelty value, and have since become repetitive. Claiming the martyr’s status as he is doing these days by telling people that the Mahagathbandhan was a gang up against him is neither here nor there. So is the claim “Some people are angry as I prevented them from looting public money”.

Equally puzzling is his continued reliance on Facebook Posts of ailing Arun Jaitley, and the faceless defence spokespersons, who have gifted a refurbished Rajiv era Bofors gun to Modi detractors, who like their by-gone era peers, have allowed themselves to become proxy parties to a ‘’war’’ being waged by the Eurofighter Typhoon Consortium (it comprises leading aerospace and defense companies from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and Spain), which has lost to Dassault Aviation of France. The deal was worth Rs.58, 000 crores. It was for the purchase of 36 multirole fighter aircraft, the IAF says are essential to keep it combat ready on the Eastern and Western Borders.

Like in all defense deals, in the Rafale deal as well, the controversy is political at its core. So far, no scam has been made out. Rahul-led Opposition will certainly do its best to present a scam angle right from early March when the poll dates will be announced till the election is completed in May in over seven to nine phases. Will they succeed and reap electoral dividends like Mandal Messiah VP Singh et al did during the Bofors saga?

The answer to this engrossing question only Narendra Modi can provide. If he shows leadership deficit, as some commentators say he suffers from, history will repeat. And Mamata ‘Didi’ will have reason to sport a smile since she has already declared, “Modi govt is past its expiry date”. But if Modi manages to change the narrative, and demonstrates that he is, indeed, the transformational leader committed to walking the talk on uplifting the disadvantaged sections, the Mahagathbandhan leaders, who gave a war cry ‘Delhi mein sarkar badal do’ (change the government at the Centre) from Kolkata’s historic Brigade Parade Ground on 19 January, will slip into a long introspection mood.

One thing is certain as of now based on what leaders from both sides of the divide- some of them senior politicians with long years in Parliament, have been saying against each other from public platforms. It is that there will be a new low in political discourse during electioneering that will cover some state assemblies notably, Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim besides the Lok Sabha. Social media will be pregnant with fake news. Already several WhatsApp groups have sprung up to wash the dirty linen of the rivals, and to project their own man as Tinopal White. Paid News will have a field day tantalizing the cash strapped print as well as electronic media notwithstanding the eagle eyes of the Poll Body which will find itself searching for new codes to address the hyperactive and highly insensitive alike. New expressions, phrases, and words will enter the political lexicon making the sanely minded wonder whether the country deserves leaders who suffer from FIM (Foot in The Mouth) disease. The illiterate voter may say: “My vote is not for NOTA but to those who can hold their tongue”.

(*The comment appeared in the Feb 2019 issue of Power Politics)

Sikhs – First among Minorities in Pakistan

Gurudwara Panja Sahib

By Ratan Saldi

The latest census figures in Pakistan have revealed some interesting facts. The Census was held in two phases from 15th March 2017 to 24th May 2017 but the final data took a lot of time for computation. The provisional figures released recently put the country’s population at 207.74 million, an increase of 57 percent since 1998 when the last census was conducted.

The census data has been disputed by some opposition leaders and demographers, questioning its authenticity on many counts. According to latest data released, over 96 percent of country’s population is Muslim, predominantly Sunni Muslims and less than four percent are minorities, which include 1.85 percent Hindus, 1.59 percent Christians, 0.22 percent Ahmadiyyas and rest other religious minorities.

Interestingly, Sikhs were not treated as a separate religious minority group in 2017 census despite a court ruling in a case filed by one prominent member of the community challenging the methodology of the census survey. The Hindus and the Sikh population is mainly concentrated in Sindh and Punjab provinces.

Pakistan National Database and Registration Authority, NADRA, puts the figure of the Sikh population in Pakistan in 2012 at 6,146 while US State Department had estimated it to be around 20,000. Demographers in Pakistan, however, believe that in recent years, the Sikh population in the country could have reached 30,000, partly because of migration from Afghanistan due to Taliban turbulence and secondly due to conversions to Sikhism from among the Hindus mainly in the Sindh province. But on the whole, the population of minorities in Pakistan has a declining trend as compared to the rise in the population of Muslims. A sizeable Sikh population resides in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of West Pakistan also.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Report 2017 has said that deaths linked to terrorism might have decreased in recent years but the ‘soft targets’ of religious minorities continue to bear the brunt of the violence. It, however, says that “There was no abetment in violence against religious minorities with Christians, Ahmadiyyas, Hazaras, Hindus and Sikhs, coming under attack.”

But the most worrisome issue to the Hindus and Sikh community is the forcible conversion of their young women folk to Islam and marrying them off to Muslim boys. “In most cases, the girls, many of whom are minors are abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and then married to Muslim men,” the report said.

On the Human Rights Day on 10th December 2018, activists of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Seva Dal held a protest demonstration at Pakistan High Commission in New Delhi against human rights violations of Sikh community in Pakistan. Demanding protection of human rights of Sikhs and other minorities in Pakistan they also alleged that like the Hindu girls, the Sikh girls were being abducted and forcibly married to Muslims.

But despite all the excesses being committed against the minorities in Pakistan and their leaders raising their voice against it from time to time, Sikhs get a better treatment than other communities in government, business circles and society at large even though their number is very small as compared to Hindus (1.41 million National Identity Card holders) or Christians (1.27 million in Pakistan.

There were hundreds of Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras in Pakistan before partition in 1947 but a large number of these were dilapidated and their lands usurped by the locals. But still quite a few famous temples and Sikhs shrines exist but their condition is not so good. Some famous Hindu temples include Shakti Peeth or the cave temple in Balochistan, Katasraj Temple (Shiva temple) in Punjab province, Sri Swaminarayan Temple in Karachi, Panchmukhi Hanuman Temple in Karachi and Jagannath Temple in Sialkot. Some of the most revered places of the Sikhs in Pakistan include Gurudwara Janam Asthan, Nankana Sahib, Gurudwara Panja Sahib, Hasan Abdal, Gurudwara Darbar Sahib, Kartarpur, Guru Nanak Gurudwara, Karachi and Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Lahore.

Sikhs from India and abroad are allowed to visit Gurudwara Nankana Sahib on the first Sikh Guru and founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday every year but there is no such facility available for the Hindus to visit Hindu temples in Pakistan.

After the present Imran Khan government took over in Pakistan, it agreed to a long-standing demand of the Sikhs to open Kartarpur corridor across the border between India and Pakistan to allow visa-free access to Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Kartarpur on the Pakistani side. The groundbreaking ceremony on both sides was held in November 2018 to build the corridor and presently modalities are being finalized for visa-free access to the people to visit the Gurudwara. Pakistan had invited an Indian team for the talks in this regard but India had suggested to Pakistan to send its delegation to New Delhi either on February 26 or March 7, as per its convenience to discuss a draft agreement on Kartarpur corridor. The issue of Kartarpur corridor was first raised by the Sikhs in India in the November 1980s.

The reasons why Sikhs get preferential treatment than Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan could be many but some of these could be analyzed without doubt or aspersions of any kind.

Firstly, the Muslims believe that the Sikhs are a theocratic society based on Sikhism like theirs – based on Islam and Muslim culture. They believe that the Hindus have a plethora of deities and profess different ideologies and have an entirely different type of faith.

Secondly, the Muslims in Pakistan strongly believe that some of the Hindu radical organizations are bitterly opposed to Islam and indulge in the persecution of the Muslims in India. The undercurrent for some of the violent incidents in Pakistan against the Hindus could be traced as a revenge attack to incidents against the Muslims in India, be it in the name of cow slaughter or any other excuse. No such incident involving the Sikhs has happened in the recent past, though Sikh army generals had led the Indian army against Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 wars.

The Muslims in Pakistan consider the Sikh rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who had his capital in Lahore over the entire Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond as bad times for the country and Sikh history hardly finds any mention in Pakistani textbooks in schools or colleges. But they appear to have forgotten all the happenings of the bygone days and are reminded of the scars of partition and more so Jammu and Kashmir under ruler Maharaja Hira Singh joining India in 1948.

Another reason could be that Nanakpanthi Sindhis, concentrated in Sindh province of Pakistan follow the teachings of the first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev and most of their homes adorn the photographs of the Guru. Of late, conversion to Sikhism by the Hindus has become a continuing process in Sindh, Punjab and Pakhtunkhwa provinces as Sikhs bear the lesser ire of the Muslim community and Hindus generally feel safe following Sikh faith.

Last but not the least, the most important reason and permanent irritant between India and Pakistan is the instigation to Khalistani movement, overtly and covertly by the authorities in Islamabad, by its army and the intelligence agency, ISI. Pakistan finds soft targets among the Sikhs in India and abroad to keep the Khalistani pot boiling, which is virtually a dead movement in India after its foremost protagonist Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was killed in 1984.

In this backdrop, Government of India will have to weigh carefully all the pros and cons if a similar demand is raised by Sikhs in Pakistan to allow the Sikh community residing in that country and the Sindhi population in the Sindh province, who follow Guru Nanak Dev to visit Harmandir Sahib or other Gurudwaras in India.

So far the vibes from Pakistan are to allow only Sikhs from India to visit Kartarpur Sahib Gurudwara in Pakistan but a large number of Hindus in India regularly visit Gurudwaras and seek blessings of Sikh Gurus. It would be unfair to deprive them of visa-free access to Darbar Sahib Gurudwara in Kartarpur in Pakistan, a place where Guru Nanak Dev breathed his last. The visa-free access to the Hindus to this sacred Gurudwara should also be allowed after following whatever modalities, the two countries may decide. The government of India may take note of this aspect also while arriving at the agreement with Pakistan on this highly sentimental and religious issue

Sikh Diaspora and Khalistan Movement

By Rattan Saldi*

Three months ago, the Indian Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat, had spoken about Khalistani elements trying to raise their head in Punjab. “Though Punjab has been peaceful for years now, there are external outfits and operatives who are trying to stoke the fire of militancy once again in the state” he said. Punjab shares border with Pakistan, and Khalistanis created mayhem in the state during mid-eighties. The General’s caution should not be taken lightly. It is because as many as 18 Khalistani terror modules had been busted in Punjab during the last two years. And last month, Parliament was told that “inputs” with the government “indicate that operatives of Pakistan espionage agency, ISI, are making efforts towards moral and financial support to pro-Khalistani elements for anti-India activities.”

The message is clear. India in general, and Punjab in particular, must step up vigil once again and thwart the plans of the extremists. More so since a person nabbed at Patiala last November had confessed to his links with an ISI sleuth and running the campaign for “Sikhs for Justice Referendum -2020”.

The Indian government has since banned the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF). It propagates independent Khalistan. Intelligence agencies aver that KLF is trying to revive militancy with financial and logistic support from Khalistani protagonists sitting abroad. Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), Khalistan Zindabad Force (KZF), International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) and all their manifestations have also been banned in Punjab as these outfits are found engaged in inciting violence and in creating disturbances. India is not alone in coming down with a heavy hand on the Khalistani campaigners. U.K., USA, Canada and several European countries have also banned these organisations.

Khalistani movement was at its peak in Punjab during the 1980s and early 1990s; not any longer following police and military operations. Punjab is largely the home for Indian Sikhs. They have been living in harmony with the Hindus and both are the proud owners of common language, culture, beliefs, rituals, festivals and social linkages. There is no threat to this harmony but the recent activities of secessionist groups based in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom indicate that the Khalistanis are again at their old game of inciting violence in Punjab. A US based group, styling itself as ‘Sikhs for Justice’ is working on “Referendum 2020” in association with radical Sikh organizations based in Canada and Britain.

What is Referendum 2020? Shorn of religious lingo and legalese, it is a campaign, to build consensus among the Sikhs across the world in favour of forming a separate sovereign country, Khalistan with its boundaries extending to the present state of Punjab in the Indian Union. These groups are spreading their message through the Gurudwaras on either side of the Atlantic. A rally was staged at the Trafalgar Square last August to enlist the support of Sikh community in Great Britain.

Like in the eighties, now also, Pakistan is aiding and abetting the Khalistanis. This is clear from its decision to allow radical Sikh groups to open “Referendum 2020” office in Lahore. Posters and banners in support of the “Referendum” are on display at Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, which is regularly visited by Sikh pilgrims from India and abroad. The Gurdwara is named after the first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev ji; he was born in this city about 90 km west of Lahore; and it is from here, Nankana Sahib, that Guru Nanak started his ministry. So the place and the Gurdwara are of high historic and religious significance. And Pakistan allowing the display of Khalistani propaganda material sends a sinister signal.

Sikh pilgrims returning from a visit to Gurdwara Nankana Sahib say that Pakistan and its Khalistani guests are working overtime to tap into Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary to be observed later this year. Indications are that success may allude them. Despite their extensive use of social media these radical outfits have not been able to make any perceptible dent on social harmony in Punjab. People across the state, both in urban and rural areas are in no mood to let the return of turmoil and hardship they had faced during 1980s and 1990s. More over the earlier crusaders of Khalistan have either been wiped out by security forces or those surviving like Simranjit Singh Mann have faded out. This does not mean that the Khalistan issue is dead. It will not die as long as foreign based elements keep trying to create new modules and sleeper cells in Punjab in conspiracy with the Inter-Services Intelligence, ISI, and are pumping in funds to revive militancy in the state,

There is no denying that the demand for an independent Khalistan can be traced to domestic politics that revolved round call for more autonomy for the province of Punjab and for the merger of Punjabi speaking areas in the adjoining Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan with Punjab. Some radical Sikhs residing abroad tried to cash in on the demand and declared the formation of Republic of Khalistan in 1980s. And unleashed a saga of violence and killings in Punjab. Operation Blue Star sealed their fate in June 1984 and to clearing the holy Harmandir Sahib complex, Amritsar.

Well, the scars of Blue Star operation and its aftermath are still fresh in the minds of the Sikhs living in Punjab and elsewhere in India. Punjabis, both Sikhs and Hindus are now wary of the dreaded events of 1984 and want to live in peace and harmony.

Khalistani protagonists and their ISI handlers are finding no traction, therefore, to pump prime the Khalistani flame. Not only amongst the Sikhs in India but also amongst the Sikh Diaspora. Sikhs who have left their homes in Punjab and moved to the West, have worked hard to establish themselves professionally, economically and socially. Trouble free life is what they want. Right side of the law is where they want to live. Will they come back to Punjab? No, never going by the trend of migration to the West by means fair and foul. West. Well, Bad news for the present day Khalistani campaigners and their ISI masters! And their designs to stoke fire of separatism in Punjab will remain a pipe-dream.(Syndicate Features)

* the author is a South Asia specialist